June 21, 2018
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Proof that dogs are the world’s greatest con artists

By Julia Bayly, BDN Staff

FORT KENT, Maine — Dogs may be man’s best friend. But they are also manipulative, deceitful and willful creatures.

How else could have they survived next to us for thousands of years?

Science is now backing that up.

An online article on the Smithsonian website cites results of a study by Marianne Heberlien of the University of Zurich that were published in the journal Animal Cognition. Heberlien developed an experiment to determine if dogs are capable of using deceptive tactics for their own gain, after she observed one of her own dogs pretending to spot something interesting outside, prompting her other dog to relinquish a favored sleeping spot.

I could have saved her the time and trouble of that study based on my share of canine con artists here on Rusty Metal Farm.

Remember Corky, everyone’s favorite shusky?

She once conned my friend Julie into feeding her a second supper after I had already fed her and I was grabbing a quick nap on the couch. Julie came in and, after seeing Corky’s imploring eyes, figured there was no way she’d already eaten.

“I did wonder why she ate so fast,” Julie said after the jig was up. “She must have been afraid you’d wake up and take the food away!”

Then there is my sled dog Pi. Once a month or so I dispense beef bones to the dogs in lieu of their regular breakfast.

One morning I thought I had miscounted the bones when I ended up one short back at Pi’s dog house.

I went and got another one for her, turned to do something, and turned back — and was met by a pair of sad, brown, boneless eyes.

Turns out, she had quickly and quietly buried the first bone I’d given her and done likewise with the second, hoping for a third.

The really tragic thing? It happened more than once before I caught on.

But sled dogs are sneaky and can work it.

My mushing friend Jaye has a now-retired dog named Hank who is famous for employing the “Hanky face” to get his way.

Jaye tells of planning for a training trip to Canada a few years back and talking with her handler about not being able to bring Hank as he was no longer on the race team.

“I was driving at the time and Hank was in the back seat,” Jaye said. “I no sooner finished saying he wasn’t coming and he was hanging his head and looking completely rejected.”

After the looks grew more pathetic, Jaye said she finally caved and told Hank he could come along.

“He perked right up,” she said. “He totally understood the conversation.”

My newest dog Chiclet is definitely angling for an Oscar in the category, “Best performance to get her own way.” Whenever she is told “no,” she manages to make herself somehow look smaller and completely dejected.

Then there is the screaming.

When I first got her I noticed on several occasions she would yelp or scream when picked up.

Fearing she had some sort of injury, I took her to my veterinarian for a check up.

From the moment she set paw on the exam table and Dr. Christiana Yule began gently touching her for trouble spots Chiclet screamed, yodeled and squirmed, sounding — in Dr. Yule’s words — like a loose fan belt.

With visions of chronic internal injuries or muscle maladies in this little pooch, I was silently adding up the costs of treatment when she suddenly grew quiet.

The vet tech had broken out the treats and as long as she was shoving them into Chiclet’s mouth, Dr. Yule could probe, bend and manipulate every joint in that dog’s body to her heart’s content.

At this point I realized when she had screamed at my house, it was when I was directing her away from something she wanted to do.

Recently my friend Kim came to visit and while we were eating supper Chiclet was begging for food — something she is not allowed to do.

Kim gently shooed her away by waving a napkin and Chiclet stalked off in a huff.

A bit later, when Kim went to pick her up Chiclet went into full fan belt mode, as if Kim was pulling her legs in four different directions. As more guests arrived over the next several hours, Chiclet went out of her way to jump on their laps and snuggle, all the while casting baleful looks at Kim, when she’d even look her way at all.

This sort of behavior is not limited to dogs.

If Dr. Heberlien is looking for a follow up study, I offer Julie and her cat ChouChou, kitty con artist extraordinaire.

For a year ChouChou limped following an injury sustained after jumping and landing badly.

“During that time we carried her, bought her steps, got a heated bed [and] gave her so much pity and attention,” Julie told me. “It wasn’t until she needed dental work and was put under that the vet did a full x-ray and [found] zero arthritis. The vet and I both scolded her, she looked away with dignity and never, ever limped again.”

And the winning envelope goes to…

Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer who writes part time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by email at jbayly@bangordailynews.com.


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